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United States v. Watson


A reliable informant told a Postal Inspector that the defendant had provided the informant with a stolen credit card. The Inspector later verified that the card had been stolen. The informant also told the Inspector that the defendant had agreed to furnish additional stolen credit cards. A meeting was arranged between the informant and the defendant in a public place. Upon receiving a signal from the informant that the defendant was in possession of additional stolen credit cards, Postal Officers made a warrantless arrest of the defendant. When a search of his person failed to turn up the additional cards, the defendant consented to a search of his nearby vehicle. Prior to consenting to the vehicle search, the defendant was told that if anything was found, “it was going to go against [him].” Two credit cards in the name of other persons were found in the vehicle.


1. Whether the warrantless arrest of the defendant was a violation of the Fourth Amendment, in that the officers had time to obtain a warrant, but failed to do so?

2. Whether the defendant’s consent to search the vehicle was coerced?


1. No. The officers had probable cause to arrest for the felony and, because the arrest occurred in public, they could do so without first obtaining a warrant.

2. No. There was no evidence to indicate that the defendant’s consent was coerced from him.


Nothing in the Fourth Amendment requires a warrant before an officer makes an arrest for a felony offense in a public place. Cases interpreting the Fourth Amendment have traditionally followed the common law approach, which permitted officers to make warrantless arrests that were committed in the officer’s presence. Common law permitted arrests for felonies not committed in the officer’s presence, but for which probable cause existed.

There was no evidence presented that the consent was coerced or otherwise not a product of the defendant’s free will. There were no threats of force made, nor were there any promises made to the defendant that would have flawed his judgment. The fact that the defendant was in custody is not sufficient to show coercion, though it may be a factor. However, the defendant’s consent was given on a public street, after he had been given Miranda warnings, not in the confines of a police station. There was no evidence that the defendant was mentally deficient or unable to exercise his free choice, nor was there evidence that the defendant was a “newcomer to the law.” Based on the totality of the circumstances, his consent was voluntarily given.


423 U.S. 411, 96 S. Ct. 820 (1976)

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